- TWO SHEDS, CROOKES: Over the late May bank holiday, this micropub and bottle shop re-opened as a takeaway. Allowing only one customer in at a time, the space is currently selling a wide variety of cans of microbrews that I haven’t seen at any other local shop. Not only do they have cans and bottles, but they also sell minikegs from Abbeydale and other local breweries, as well as pints to take away. I walked in on their second day of opening, excited and with my two-pint plastic growler to fill. I had a choice of cask ales, had two tasters, and went for the Genesis (3.8% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Brewed with Chinook and Liberty hops from America, this is a lightweight but satisfyingly tasty pale ale, with a good herbal bitter. I took it home and drank my two pints while engaged in the weekly Zoom general knowledge quiz with a group of Sheffield friends. Seeing them all with their cans of beer, I felt a bit of envy from a couple of them.
I am hoping that Two Sheds is simply the first of more pubs to open up offering takeaway pints very soon, as this is such a great idea and puts money back into the pubs, many of which are not going to make it through this closedown. I mean, my friends in California have been taking home freshly poured pints of craft beer all through their lockdown, so why not here? It’s hard to imagine that a mere three months ago I couldn’t have imagined scampering down the road, beaming with happiness because I was heading home with a couple of pints of freshly-poured cask ale in a plastic container. Life has certainly changed.
Two Sheds is currently open Wednesday to Friday from 5-7pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 1-5pm. As I’m joining a group of friends every Saturday at 4pm for another of Olly’s quizzes, I’ve decided to treat myself to a couple of freshly poured pints from Two Sheds for the occasion. This last time, as the cask ale I chose ran out before two pints could be poured, I chose a craft beer, Laughing Water (4.3% ABV, The Brew Foundation, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Brewed with Jester, Galena, and Amarillo hops, this is a very satisfying hoppy brew with a great character. The theme of this week’s quiz was “air”, so a pale hoppy brew that wasn’t too strong was perfect.
And most recently I stopped on a Sunday and took away two pints of Centennial APA (4.5% ABV, Blue Bee Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Once I was back home I was looking forward to sitting outside in our back garden in the late afternoon sunshine, for the very first time since we’ve lived there, as the garden, the central one in a three-house terrace, has always been a pretty much ignored mass of weeds. Since the lockdown a friend of ours who enjoys gardening and stonemasonry has been turning it into an actual sort of garden, so this was my christening of the back sort-of-deck. I took my bright red chair, a book, and a pint of Centennial out with me and sat in the sun, so happy for the small things. And my single-hopped beer possessed a zingy and tingly bitter character, just like one would expect from pure Centennial hops.
BOTTLED/CANNED BEER UPDATE:
- Hop, Skip, and Juicy Pale Ale (5.7% ABV, Vocation Brewery, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, in collaboration with Marble Brewery, Manchester): This is brewed with Citra BBC and Simcoe hops, and I’m wondering what the BBC stands for. Not the British Broadcasting System, and surely not the local football hooligans who call themselves the Blades Business Club. Ah, it stands for the Boston Beer Company, who developed a better kind of hop pellet for brewing hoppier beers. But back to the Hop, Skip, and Juicy: it’s a great beer that suits this warm summery April day, with people blasting music through huge speakers and conversing with their neighbours, all the people lucky enough to have front porches so they can social distance. And I’m trying to get Vitamin D sunshine exercise therapy for my broken heart. The can is very pretty, the colours of tropical fruit, a la Carmen Miranda’s headdress. Chica-chica-boom!
- Call To Adventure (8.2% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): A collaboration with Beatnikz Republic of Manchester, this is a double IPA with ESB yeast, Ekuanot and Mosaic cryo hops, and it’s gold in colour but tastes much darker. Good god, it’s very intense. I feel that it’s bit too adventurous for my tender soul the early May night that I drank it, worried sick about my mother in California who was not well, after searching for green walks through the woods to calm my trembling soul. This beer needs fortitude to drink.
- Shipyard American IPA (5.0% ABV, Shipyard Brewing Company, Portland, Maine): This deep gold brew is actually quite a pleasantly drinkable beer. It’s not overly hoppy or capable of sending one into unexplored realms, but it’s just a good traditional American craft beer with a grapefruit hoppiness. I can see the sailing ships pulling out of the harbour...actually I’ve never been to Maine, much less to Portland, Maine, so I’m not sure if this image is accurate. But I have been to Portland, Oregon plenty of times, and I even rode on a sternwheeler down the Columbia River. I realise that’s a slightly different image, but at least it was a boat...
- Isolation Session IPA (4.4% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): Brewed with Enigma, Ekuanot, and Idaho 7 hops, this is Abbeydale’s first beer intended for cans only, to “embrace the concept of staying at home”. It’s nice and drinkable and very comforting after a frustrating day spent in long queues outside shops only to find what you came for is out of stock. And it’s a soothing reward for trying to get used to yet another new reality, with a mother who has just died in a country that I’m not allowed to visit at the moment, combined with the horrid lockdown situation where all of us but the hermits who are used to this lifestyle are reaching saturation point with their mental health. Mine is certainly disappearing quickly. And if I hear the phrase “for the foreseeable future” once again I’m going to explode. (...while isolated inside my house, of course.)
- Thunderpeel Hazy IPA (6.2% ABC, Flying Dog Brewing Company, Frederick, Maryland): This brew is good and zingy. I consumed a can during a Zoom pub quiz with eight friends whom I haven’t actually seen in the literal sense since March, even though three of the participants live a five-minute walk away. (I did well at the quiz but didn’t win, which doesn’t really bother me. At least I forced myself to be sociable after my awful grief-filled isolation week, and I’m glad I did.)
- Eternal Session IPA ((4.1% ABV, Northern Monk Brewery, Holbeck, West Yorkshire): This is a very drinkable IPA, and I can easily imagine being thoroughly content with a couple of pints of this in a pub. Remember those things? Do you remember sitting at the bar on a stool, sipping a freshly poured pint and talking to, I don’t know, maybe three or four three-dimensional friends? Wow, those were the days...as I sit sipping this can of eternal comfort I can only hope the pub closure will not become eternal as well.
- Juicy IPA (6.0% ABV, Seven Bro7ers Brewing Company, Salford, Greater Manchester): A hazy, dry-hopped beer, this is pretty damn good, with my style of hoppiness and a good tropical-fruit character. I drank this while having a couple of pints on HouseParty with my friends Olly and Ali. Sadly, the only place I’ve ever seen it on sale is at a ridiculously overpriced off-license, so this will probably be the last can of this I see, unless somebody else starts stocking it.
- Highwire Grapefruit Pale Ale (5.5% ABV, Magic Rock Brewing Company, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire): This is a nice grapefruit bitter with a really nice grapefruity smell, like real grapefruit. Sadly I can’t really do grapefruit, not because of any medications but because of a super-sensitive stomach since I was in my twenties. I used to love half of a grapefruit with my breakfast when I was growing up, so I do still love the taste. And I have since discovered that even if a brew uses actual grapefruit in its brewing (which a lot of them don’t, as it’s a flavour character of certain hops), it’s a bit denatured and doesn’t bother my stomach. So bring on the grapefruit, I say!
- Serenity SIPA (3.8% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): This is a light-on-alcohol pleasantly drinkable brew with Citra, Centennial, and Victoria Secret hops. I chose to take this can out into our back garden to sit, for the very first time, as our tiny postage stamp of weedy chaos is finally being tamed into somewhere we can sit and enjoy the sun this summer. A friend of ours stopped over for our very first socially-distancing-but-in-the-flesh visit since early March, so it was quite exciting. As Mike sat in a folding chair at the back of the garden (over two metres away), I perched on the back step, sipping this beer and squinting painfully at the angle at which the sun was piercing my eyes. Still, the easy effect of this beer on my lockdown-claustrophobic mood was lightly optimistic, which is a good thing.
- Heretic Dry-Hopped Lager (4.2% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Since I love Galaxy hops, that’s what made me decide to try this dry-hopped lager which contains them. For a lager it’s not bad at all. It would be a nice cold drink to sip while sitting outside on a warm sunny day, which might be...hmm, when? Oh promises, promises...I realise that I’m sitting here drinking lager, but some of the hoppy craft lagers are all right now and then. So there.
- Voyager IPA #1 (5.6% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): I first tried a can of this beer at the end of the first week in lockdown, way, way back in distant March. Yesterday afternoon I took a three-mile walk into new territory for me, into Crookes Cemetery and then on into long country paths I had yet to know existed, and where they went I did not know, armed only with a bottle of Magic Castle water and my trusty GoogleMaps GPS to help me if I should become lost in the wilderness. It was a very fun walk, and once I was home I thought I deserved to reward myself with a Voyager. This is a really good beer, just really satisfying to a hops lover, with a great classic combination of Citra, Centennial, and Mosaic hops. As I sat and sipped back safely at my homestead, I felt like a trail blazer, a pioneer, JC Oakley or perhaps Calamity JC. Yep, this is a rip-roaringly good brew.
- Hazy Little Thing IPA (4.6% ABV, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California): I haven’t tasted anything for years from this old classic California brewery. When I lived in Seattle I used to enjoy the brewery’s Celebration Ale, but that’s been years now. So when I spotted this can I decided to see what it was like. It’s surprisingly hoppy, with oo-ee hops bouncing out of the can at the first sip. It’s buzzily zoomphy! Sorry, I’m running out of good alliterations for what all the different hops characters do to my tongue and senses. I suppose it’s from lockdown fatigue.
- Juicy IPA (5.0% ABV, First Chop Brewing Company, Eccles, Greater Manchester): Wow, what a smell that bursts from the poptop! Yes! This is a pretty cool beer: a zizzy buzz rolling itself out across the tongue of tropicality. And it’s in a very neon-bright can as well. It would look good at a picnic, if one were allowed such a social type of thing these days. I suppose I could go to the park with a couple of cans of this while one friend sat at least two metres away from me with another couple of cans, and each of us could have a sandwich or a packet of crisps or something as well, just as long as we didn’t share. I suppose at a stretch one could call that a picnic. But I don’t think any ants would be particularly interested.
- Scorched Earth (4.2% ABV, Wild Horse Brewing Company, Llandudno, Wales): Brewed with Loral and Wai-Iti hops this beer is described on the Wild Horse website as a “rotating hop pale ale”, although my can was pretty stationary on the table. The brewery specialise in light and hoppy brews using both new and old hops varieties. Written on the can is the following: “Wedi ei fragu yng nghysgodion y mynyddoedd ac awel y môr”. According to Google Translate, this loosely means “Mastered in the mountain fisheries and the sea of the sea”. This mouthy bit of Welsh is followed by the much more useful and learnable “Iechyd da!”, which means “Good health!” (I’ve only been to Wales once, which was for a weekend break. But as a person who’s always been good at learning foreign languages, I instantly -- but sadly only temporarily -- learned many of the Welsh road-sign terms, and knew that I would be happy to learn the whole language if I suddenly found myself living there.) Anyway, this is a pleasantly easy brew, very drinkable, especially when chilled, but not terribly exciting. I did happily discover that as soon as I took a coupe of bites of our evening meal, the grilled salmon and purple potatoes with chewy caramelised garlic suddenly set the Scorched Earth ablaze, with its hidden bubbly hoppiness leaping to the fore like a stoked fire. So I’d highly recommend this beer with salmon and garlic.
- Roadkill (6.5% ABV, Mad Squirrel Brewing Company, Potten End, Hertfordshire): This is a New England IPA, unfiltered and naturally hazy, brewed with Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo, El Dorado, and Idaho 007 hops, and oats and wheat. Wow, what a basket of flavours! Wow! It’s got a bit of a sweet edge (it’s suggested with dessert dishes), but a bouquet like a distinctly American pint in some slightly experimental hipster-filled brewpub hidden away in La Habra or Wilmington or Temescal or some other unlikely place. This beer is a bit too intense a flavour to imagine drinking a whole pint of. Perhaps as part of a flight, in a 3-ounce taster glass. I think, if I’m honest with myself, it’s a little too much of a mixture of different hops that maybe all shouldn’t be together. It’s like a band that seems exciting and promising but ends up splitting up after four months because of the clash of egos. Andrew’s comment on that was that it turns out they’re a cover band.
- California IPA (4.2% ABV, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California): As it’s getting warm (in relation to Yorkshire weather that is), I chilled a can of this first in the fridge. Then I sat on the back step in the sun, after an exhausting walk to the shops in a haze where I inadvertently kept doing all the wrong social-distancing things while a large white tissue of which I was completely unaware waved unattractively from the back pocket of my jeans. Meanwhile there is a pipe under our combi boiler that is suddenly dripping, and it’s the end of Friday. Yes, I felt humiliated and stressed out and worried and I definitely needed a lift. This is a refreshing citrussy drop from my home state, so that helped a bit.
- Defender IPA (5.5% ABV, Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, New York): I decided to grab a can off the supermarket shelf because I was attracted to the can, with its Yankees baseball-style “B” prominent. It looks like a brewery that’s been around awhile, but don’t let that make you start yawning, because this is pretty damn good. It’s just a really good, satisfying, hoppy pale ale that’s quite yummy, especially as I chilled it in the fridge because of the warm end-of-May day. Now I just have to remember where I saw this. (Sainsbury’s? Co-op? Asda? Tesco?)
- Backstage IPA (5.6% ABV, Signature Brew, Leyton, Greater London): Signature Brew is known for its collaborative beers and brewing with musicians. It was started in 2015 by musicians and bands. This is a nice easy IPA, good for relieving my sleepless stressed grieving soul. It’s just a basically nice IPA, sort of undemandingly drinkable, like Farmers Blonde by Bradfield Brewery.
- Mojo (5.5% ABV, Frederic Robinsons Brewery, Stockport, Cheshire): This tropical beer comes in a bottle. I certainly wasn’t expecting what I got with my first taste. It's tropical, yes, but like a champagne cocktail with mixed tropical fruit. It definitely got my mojo working, for a short time. But I eventually realised it’s too fruity-punchy-bubbly. Sorry, but a m&iavute; no me gusta.
- North Bridge (7.2% ABV, a collaboration between Thornbridge Brewery, Sheffield and North Brew Company of Sheepscar, Leeds): This is really nice, with quite a strong taste, but it has a sort of an Abbeydale Deception aura about it. The hops are Citra, HBC 353, and Bru-1, with Maris Otter, Oat Malt, and Flaked Wheat malts.
- Hazy Jane (5.0% ABV, BrewDog Ltd, Fraserburg, Aberdeenshire, Scotland): My friend Mike thought I would like this New England IPA, and he's right: I do. The label says “Embrace the Opaque” on the label. The beer is super-pale in colour, and of course hazy, looking a bit like pear juice. But it’s definitely my favourite BrewDog beer at this point.
- Bibble (4.2% ABV, The Wild Beer Company, Shepton Mallet, Somerset): Apparently the term “bibble” means to drink loudly, often, and well in old Somerset dialect. When I picked it off the shelf I thought it said “Bubble”. But as I was sipping this beer, which had a surprising first impression, I noticed on the bottle that the u was actually an i. And I then realised I was drinking a beer named after one of my characters in my most recent e-novel, The Hat Club, available on Smashwords.Com. (Bibble is the nickname that a trio of employees have given to their manager, Bob Jibble.) Brewed with a big hit of Mosaic hops, along with Magnum, Summit, and Amarillo, this pale ale finally settled down into a very light texture on the palate, but still a pleasant hoppiness with a balanced maltiness. I realised I felt a bit of relief that it wasn’t called Bubble after all, as I had just discovered that my box of 45s, some rare Los Angeles-in-the-late-70s-and-early-80s singles, as well as my entire collection of 1980s indy band singles picked up in Paris and Munich, had become soaked by some sort of mysterious but worrying flooding in the cellar, as this box and a couple of other more valuable boxes were sitting high on a table and not on the floor. Anyway, most of the irreplaceable paper covers are sodden, some glued to the 45s and therefore ripped, so I’ve got a big restoration and piecing together job ahead of me. So I might need to steel myself with a few more cans of Bibble…
- Tramcar IPA (6.5% ABV, Wild Horse Brewing Company, LLandudno, Wales): Brewed with Galaxy and Citra hops, this beer was created as a tribute to the Llandudno Tram which carries tourists from the town up to the summit of the Great Orne. This is the brewery’s 5th version of this particular beer. It’s extremely hazy, probably the haziest of all of the intentionally hazy beers I’ve tried. It’s got a very bitter hops, like a funicular tram ride through the thick clouds with the intention of cooling off after the warm, muggy, high-pollen day. It’s an interesting combination, Galaxy and Citra, and a bit strange. It suggests a big dose of lemon zest added to a heady incense.
- Sumo American Pale Ale (4.7% ABV, Mad Squirrel Brewing Company, Potten End, Hertfordshire): This beer is brewed with Summit and Mosaic and has a very interesting character of tropicality mixed with dankness. Yes, this beer is what I like. This is very satisfying in that it has so many attributes that work together perfectly. I have to remember where I bought this can, as I need to buy another one soon. And the big 440ml can is a gorgeous red-on-black design that matches my shirt and my headband perfectly. This is great! I’m really excited about this beer.
- Go To IPA (4.7% ABV, Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, California): Brewed with Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Chinook, Citra, Crystal, Magnum, Sterling, and Hopsteiner 06300 hops, with peach, citrus, melon flavours, this beer will supposedly go well with stuffed poblano peppers, jerk chicken, ceviche, Cajun shrimp, chips and salsa, grilled salmon. The can says it’s brewed in the US rather than Berlin, where the recent can of Stone IPA was brewed. It’s quite nice, actually, as a starter can for the weekly local friends’ pub quiz, which I was a bit startled to win this week thanks to a ridiculously simple tie-breaker question aimed at Americans rather than Brits. Anyway, I seem to almost always go to IPA when I want a beer, so following this beer’s instructions is always quite easy for me.
- Pineapple Express IPA (6.2% ABV, Tiny Rebel, Newport, Wales, in collaboration with Polly's Brew Company, Mold, Wales): The pineapple and grapefruit taste is pretty strong, especially the pineapple. Wo, this is a truly bizarre beer. You can most definitely taste the pineapple juice. We drink pineapple juice ll the time with gin and tonic, but I think this is only the second pineapple beer I've ever had (the first being the Pineapple Sculpin' IPA at Ballast Point in Long Beach). If you can imagine hoppy pineapple...well, can you? It's actually quite an appropriate quaff for the suddenly warm, clear, sunny day, my second day in history sitting out in our back garden on the paving-stone deck against the back wall, giving me a new outlook on our house and the neighbourhood. So this new perspective on beer is quite appropriate.